ABINGDON, Va. — Abingdon Mayor Derek Webb predicts that next Father’s Day — a year from now — the town’s long-awaited sports complex will be as busy as a bumble bee.
As spring turns to summer this week, construction is in full bloom at the site near Interstate 81’s Exit 17.
“You can see the fields starting to take shape,” said Webb. “They’re actually starting to erect the main field house and another field house right down from the center of the baseball diamond.”
The facility features a baseball diamond with four fields. The complex will also include two full-size soccer fields.
“And if you’re playing small children’s soccer, you can play three games at one time,” Webb said.
What’s more, he added, “The walking path will go all the way around the sports complex — and I’m hoping to make it about a mile.”
Webb’s enthusiasm is shared by others on the Abingdon Town Council.
“We’re ecstatic that we’re finally getting this underway,” said Councilman Mike Owens, 60.
A mountain bike park could be added where the complex borders the Virginia Creeper Trail, Webb suggested.
Additionally, thanks to donations from the local Rotary Club in Abingdon, a splash pad is set to be running with water by next summer’s heat, Webb said.
“That should be a fantastic thing for the children,” he said. “It’s really going to be neat.”
Dreams on the drawing board also call for adding “a really nice children’s playground,” Webb said. “It’s always been in theory there. We’re full speed ahead.”
What’s in the works?
Quesenberry’s, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, is handling the current $7.5 million construction phase of the project, said John Pew, the town’s public works director.
“Some of the baseball fields are nearing completion,” Dew said. “Site-wise, most of the significant grading has been completed.”
According to Dew, recent construction progress includes:
— Completion of electrical and communication fiber conduit installation.
— Installation of field underdrains and irrigation systems continues.
— Fine-grading and installing infield mix on the baseball and softball fields are being completed.
— Footers and plumbing have been finished for the concession stand/press box and maintenance building.
— Work continues on utilities for the facilities.
— Grading for the multi-use fields, access road, parking lots and walking trail is being done as the construction sequence and weather allows.
— Installation of the fencing for the baseball and softball fields has started.
— Excess soil is being disposed of in berms on the north side of the property, and a low ditch on the east side is being filled in to improve the proposed landscape area.
— Concrete subcontractor is pouring the curb, gutter and sidewalk.
— Excavation is being done for site and access road lighting. Fencing work is beginning.
Bordering The Meadows
The sports complex has been in the works for six years in Abingdon as a neighbor of The Meadows, a retail development just off Cummings Street, but the need for a complex has been discussed for many more years.
Still, because the site was once a farm and plantation and the remaining house was home to two former governors, use of the site for the development and the sports complex spurred controversy for a couple of years, as preservationists lobbied to “Save Mary’s Meadows” while K-VA-T Food Stores, the parent company of Food City, worked with former town leaders to construct a new Food City with outlying commercial parcels.
After the town approved a rezoning of the property that allowed construction of the Food City on the site to proceed, Food City donated $2.2 million to the town, which it used to buy the property for the sports complex. Rather than raze the house that remained on the property, town leaders decided to save it.
Putting ballfields on this agricultural property, however, was not entirely a new concept. Years earlier, according to Humphreys, the Town Council discussed acquiring this same land and using it for a recreation area “but it wasn’t financially feasible,” Humphreys said.
In recent months, the sports complex has been actively under development in a corner property that borders The Meadows, the Virginia Creeper Trail and I-81.
Meanwhile, The Meadows is “thriving” with businesses, Webb said.
In addition to Food City, the site includes Holiday Inn Express, Jersey Mike’s, Pal’s Sudden Service and Century 21 Real Estate plus a Pizza Hut on the way, Webb said.
“When everything is fully built out, it would be just a fantastic tax revenue driver for the town,” the mayor said.
This spring, the town has enjoyed higher-than-predicted lodging, meals and sales tax revenues — which Town Manager Jimmy Morani partially attributes to the new development at The Meadows.
Next year, when the sports complex is completed, both Owens and Webb say they expect teams to compete in tournaments — with parents and players staying overnight in Abingdon’s motels and spending money at shops and restaurants.
“It’s an economic multiplier for the town,” Webb said.
On the other hand, costs for the sports complex project have now climbed to $12.5 million, according to Morani. In 2015, the projected cost was $5.5 million.
“And there are some amenities that we would like to see added to the project and we’re hoping there is some fundraising,” Morani said.
Webb says he’s been actively working on seeking donations and sponsorships for the complex.
“I’ve had quite a lot of success doing fundraising so far,” Webb said. “We’ve had local banks calling us and saying ‘we want our name on something.’ Everybody wants their name on it somewhere.”
What will be done with the house?
Electric service has been extended to The Meadows house at the edge of the sports complex, Dew said.
Town staff will install climate control — a portable air conditioning unit — within the house, Dew added.
Even so, there are no firm ideas for what town leaders also call the “White House” — a nearly century-old structure that stands within sight of the ballfields.
“We have no plans for that,” Owens said. “It was kind of one of these white elephants that we inherited.”
This house was built in the 1930s on the foundation of a home that burned in 1929. The original house was built in the late 1700s.
“The house wasn’t historic. But it had become iconic in itself,” said Humphreys. “People would see if off the interstate.”
As a councilman, Humphreys championed the cause to save the structure, saying the Town Council agreed to let the building stand as it planned to develop the land for the sports complex.
“There’s a significant amount of work that needs to be done there and the town has to decide what this is going to be used for,” Morani said.
“If it’s a commercial business or a public facility, it will have to be up to code for it to be utilized for the general public,” Morani said.
Dew said the house could be used as a retail space.
“I don’t think anything’s off the table,” he said.
“We’re not going to sell it,” Morani said. “The property is going to stay with the town for the foreseeable future. We certainly want to see it improved or put to use in some way.”
Owens added: “It will end up being something. We’ve been asking people what they think the purpose should be with this.”
Beyond the ongoing construction phase, town leaders are now looking to complete the sports complex in time for spring games in 2022, Webb said.
“We’re actually planning on spring baseball, soccer, Ultimate Frisbee — whatever,”
Webb said. “They are multiple purpose fields. You can play anything on them.”
Still, Dew said, you can expect even more than just the passionate cries of “Play ball!” next Father’s Day.
“In the fall, we will put sod on the fields and continue working on the parking lots,” Dew said.
“Next year, we should be using the facility and we’ll be playing games,” Dew said. “We’ll hopefully have it ready for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day next year.”
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